Once again this year, Richmond was a squad that relied on a heavy dose of minor, major, and Indy league league vets to complete their roster as Jerry Sands, Caleb Gindl, Matt Lipka, and Luigi Rodriguez received large quantities of playing time. However, there was a sprinkling of actual prospects littered among the roster this year including one of the Giants two Future’s Game representatives (Shaun Anderson) and current big leaguer Aramis Garcia.
62-76, last place in the Eastern League Western Division
Roger - Ryan Howard, 23 yrs old, SS/2b, .273/.336/.396
The Giants selected Howard in both the 2015 and 2016 drafts, and so far as a pro he’s rewarded their faith. Stepping up to AA in his second full year, the former Team USA SS finished third on the club in total bases (167) and RBIs (50) while anchoring the middle of the defense. He also showed marked improvements in his BB%, K% and ISO over his 2017 season in the Cal. The walk rate was the most notable of the three as it doubled from his 2017 level. And as Bobby Evans had predicted last winter, keeping Howard in the strike zone did lead to increased power.
Kevin - Luigi Rodriguez, 25 yrs old, RF, .271/.342/.442
Ryan Howard had a good year, but I’ll go with the non-prospect pick. Rodriguez joined the Giants as a free agent and became the model of consistency in an inconsistent roster. He played 114 games despite having not played 100+ games in a season since 2012, and led the Squirrels with 14 home runs and was second in steals with 15 (in 25 attempts). Rodriguez doesn’t have the standout skills that’ll put him on a surprise path to the majors but he’s an excellent compliment to prospects that need support.
Rookie Of The Year
Kevin - Shaun Anderson, 23 yrs old, 3.45 ERA, 93 Ks, 22 BBs, 94 IP
Anderson’s future has been a bit contentious it seems, whether that future is as a starter or reliever. But as the Giants have all but emptied their upper minors of pitching prospects, Anderson’s an important player. His ability to look very strong in Richmond and then move up to Sacramento is important. Throwing a fastball in the low-mid 90’s and a compliment of four pitches gives him a nice arsenal to pitch with. Anderson will get a second shot in Sacramento next season, and be the next pitcher up in case of emergency.
Roger - Pat Ruotolo, 23 yrs old, 2.42 ERA, 36 Ks, 10 BBs, 26 IP
Obviously Howard or my Pitcher of the Year Shaun Anderson would fit here as well, but I’m going to spread the love a little bit by shining some light on a relief pitcher who just keeps putting up fantastic numbers at every level. While Ruotolo’s season was cut short by an injury which kept him out all of August, in his time with Richmond he impressively matched nearly all of his numbers from San Jose and Augusta. He’s consistently posted a K rate of about 35% -- or more than 12 Ks per 9 -- everywhere he’s gone, while keeping walks low. His one bugaboo in Richmond was a propensity for the longball -- he gave up 5 in 26 IP after allowing just 3 HRs in his pro career prior to that. As a 5’10” righty who lacks plane, that’s going to be something to watch as he tries to climb the final two rungs of the ladder.
Best Returning Player
Roger - Jordan Johnson, 24 yrs. old, RHP, 3.63 ERA 77 Ks, 31 BBs, 79.1 IP
I can’t say that the returning group was a particularly inspiring collection this year, but SP Jordan Johnson definitely took a step forward in his development and ended up in the Sacramento rotation the final month of the year. Johnson shaved nearly a run off of his ERA from the 4.48 he posted in 2017, thanks in large part to a significant increase in his K rate (up to 22%) and a massive decline in the HRs that had hurt him badly the previous two seasons. Johnson has to mix up his full repertoire to be successful, and he needs to firm up his fastball command, but he does possess possibly the best changeup in the system.
Kevin - Miguel Gomez, 25 yrs. Old, 2B, .313/.333/.479
Sure, he only played 53 games at the level, but Gomez has shown he can own the Double-A level, earning the second-highest OPS the team had (even if he didn’t play enough games to qualify officially). Gomez continues to show that hitting skill at Double-A, but he hasn’t made it work at the Triple-A level yet. He also didn’t get a callup, which doesn’t look like a good sign for how the team sees him and his potential. But at least, when he’s in Richmond, he is a hitting machine.
Best Starting Pitcher
Roger - Shaun Anderson, 23 yrs old, 3.45 ERA, 93 Ks, 22 BBs, 94 IP
In his second year as a starter, Anderson stretched out to a career high 141 IP, led the Flying Squirrels in strikeouts (despite not pitching there after July 15) and getting an all expenses paid trip to Washington DC for the Future’s Game. Anderson used his solid four pitch repertoire to great advantage in the Eastern League (though a little less successfully in AAA), and showed real improvement in his changeup. He was rarely great -- surrendering two or three runs in nearly all of his starts -- but he was consistently solid. All the numbers declined in AAA, suggesting he still has some development hurdles to get over before he’s ready to compete for a back-end rotation spot, although a return to the bullpen could be another option for the former UFlorida closer (as Brian Sabean recently suggested).
Kevin - Connor Menez, 23 yrs old, 4.38 ERA, 92 Ks, 34 BBs, 74 IP
I already put up Anderson above, so I’ll take this spot to point out Menez, the Hollister native who showed off some strikeout skills. He was second on the team in strikeouts, just one under Anderson’s total in 20 less innings. Menez would fluctuate through the season, either having dominating strikeout totals or getting hit hard. He throws a fastball in the low-90’s, but he can put movement to both sides on it when it’s working. He also has finishing pitches with his slider and curveball, and a deceptive delivery. Menez is a sleeper in this system to keep an eye on.
Kevin - Dan Slania, 26 yrs old, 2.43 ERA, 69 Ks, 21 BBs, 70.1 IP
Slania had a wild ride as the surprising starting candidate in 2016, but that experiment came to a heavy end has he was pounded in Sacramento to a 7.82 ERA in 2017. In 2018, he was a nearly fulltime reliever again and looked like the reliever the Giants had hoped for. He throws 92-94 as a reliever,with a 71-73 curve that can be inconsistent in both control and its break, which is his biggest weakness. Slania isn’t a closer type, but he a big, steady guy that can be in the middle of that bullpen, and swing as a starter when needed.
Roger - Dillon McNamara, 26 yrs old, 1.20 ERA, 50 Ks, 8 BBs, 45 IP
Ray Black received strong consideration here, as he streaked through the month April like a brilliant comet, describing an arc that would land him San Francisco in July. However, Black’s 10 innings just seemed a trifle too small, and his time in Richmond a trifle too brief. So instead let me highlight an interesting arm that dropped unnoticed off the Yankees caravan of strong armed pitchers. McNamara was purchased for a small amount of cash from the Yankees AA affiliate in Trenton last year, and he’s proven to be a rock in the Squirrels’ bullpen ever since. After allowing just 6 earned runs in 33 games this year, while striking out more than a batter an inning, he could be an interesting Dark Horse candidate for a 40 man spot come November.
Other Interesting Players
Kevin - It’s hard not to mention Aramis Garcia here, who had a horrible year as a Squirrel (.233/.287/.395), though he’s putting some thrills up in opportunities in the Majors. On the topic of prospects who had awful years, Garrett Williams had a 6.06 ERA and was removed from the rotation halfway through the season, but his arm still has some excellent pitches. Don’t sleep on Sam Wolff, who was returning from injury as he put up a 6.91 ERA. How did I not mention Ryan Howard above? He had a good year, and might be that next middle infield utility guy the Giants produce.
Roger - Aramis Garcia is, even as I type this, providing a few moments of entertainment for Giants fans at the end of this dreary season, and trying to play himself into contention for a roster spot come April. After a dismal spring, Garcia posted a solid second half prior to his big league call up. Garrett Williams had a miserable year but still boasts the most electric left-handed arm in the system. Conner Menez ran up huge strikeout totals this year, though that didn’t necessarily lead to successful run prevention. There could be a very interesting situational reliever package profile here though. C.J. Hinojosa could be in line to take over the Kelby Tomlinson role (if Howard doesn’t pass him up) next year when Specs is out of options. Sam Wolff had a rough return from a torn flexor tendon, but he’s a power armed reliever who could see some big league time.